Russian Ambassador Jokes Swedes Are High After Passenger Jet 'Near Miss'

Russian jets
Jet fighters from the Su-30 SM "Sokoly Rossii" (Falcons of Russia) aerobatic team perform during a show in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, October 25, 2014. Ilya Naymushin/REUTERS

The Russian ambassador to Denmark has made light of an alleged near-miss between a Russian intelligence aircraft and a Scandinavian Airlines passenger jet over Sweden last week, implying that the Swedish authorities have been smoking cannabis.

Mikhail Vanin dismissed concerns that commercial flights are being put at risk by Russian aircraft, telling the Danish newspaper Berlingske: "Now they say again that they have seen something. I'm afraid the Swedes visit Pusher Street very often," referring to the Christiana area of Copenhagen, a neighbourhood known for its abundant supply of cannabis.

"The Swedish authorities also recently said there was a submarine in their waters. There wasn't," the ambassador added.

Sweden and Denmark summoned their respective Russian ambassadors on Monday after Swedish authorities said that a Russian military jet that had turned off its transponders, that make it visible to commercial radar, had a near-collision with a commercial passenger plane. The incident took place over Sweden after the plane took off from Copenhagen International Airport heading for Poznan, Poland on Friday. The Swedish military diverted the passenger aircraft after detecting the Russian plane, claiming it came within 9km. Russia said their jet was more than 70km away.

Vanin conceded that the frequency of Russian aerial patrols in the Baltic area had increased, but chalked it up to "a response to Nato's activities and escalation in the region".

"I'm sure that if Nato reduces its activities in the region, we will do the same," he said. "Do not provoke the Russian bear."

Martin Lidegaard, Denmark's foreign minister said that it was "totally unreasonable that civilian lives are put at risk in this way. I hope we can reach an agreement with the Russians that we try to limit these kind of flights."

This is not the first time Russia has gotten into trouble for overstepping Baltic boundaries. Last month, Newsweek shed light on a report on close-encounters between Russia and the West from The European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank.

The report identified eleven serious incidents apart from routine or near-routine encounters in 2014, three of which "carried a high probability of causing casualties or a direct military confrontation". They claimed that some Russian military planes enter European airspace undetected by declining to use transponders used to identify their position.

A near-collision much like Friday's occurred on March 3rd, when a Scandinavian Airlines flight from Copenhagen to Rome found itself avoiding a Russian reconnaissance plane by just 90 meters, 50 miles south-east of Malmö. The Russian plane did not have its transponder on.

Sweden also claimed that a small Russian submarine was found illegally patrolling its waters, triggering a week-long operation by Sweden's navy - the first such exercise since the end of the Cold War.